It’s easy to dismiss “all-star” jams (and albums for that matter) as egocentric posturing, but Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry’s new star-packed solo album, Sweetzerland Manifesto (out tomorrow), thankfully, ain't that. The 10-track album, executive produced by Johnny Depp, features some iconic frontmen on guest vocals, including Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, The New York Dolls' David Johansen and almost/could've been Led Zep crooner Terry Reid, alongside drummer David Goodstein and Perry's sons Tony and Roman (who co-wrote material as well).
Perry called out his sons from the stage during the record release show at the Roxy Tuesday night, but they were the only collaborators who didn’t join him onstage. With Stone Temple Pilots' Dean and Rob DeLeo backing up the guitar star, the night was a procession of robust rock voices beginning with Extreme singer/Van Halen temp Gary Cherone (who treated the crowd to some Aerosmith tracks; “Toys in the Attic” was especially tight yet wildly wound up). But this was not about Aerosmith, and Perry made it clear that “that other band” was the last thing on his mind at this show, and seemingly in general these days. His last high-profile stage turn — not promoting the record — was with The Foo Fighters, not Aerosmith.
And if you’re gonna play with some singers who aren’t Steven Tyler, well, they'd better be formidable. Zander, Johansen and Reid are, of course, more than that, and on the record each manages to make the material his own, even as Perry’s snarling licks and hypnotic Aero-dynamic rhythms drive each track. They trade off vocals on the album pretty evenly and did the same in the live setting, providing a full album listening experience, with Reid and Johansen both offering audacious stylings that mirrored Perry’s possessed yet effortless playing style. Zander, on the other hand, is a cleaner kind of crooner, and as with Cheap Trick, his turn was one of exuberant precision, his vox hitting every note and big chorus with zeal. Zander's voice is nowhere close to surrendering to age, and we're glad he's still sharing it.
Also taking a turn at the mic was The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, who sang a new song Perry promised would be added to the vinyl release at a later date. Perry said he loved it so much that he wanted to hear it again, so it was played twice (probably for recording purposes), but nobody minded. The song was a sort of Crowes-meets–'70s era–Aerosmith hybrid, and it was as rockin' and bluesy as that sounds. Also, Robinson’s mojo may be more akin to Tyler’s than any of the singers onstage, so his time with Perry felt the loosest and most soulful.
The chemistry among the players was near combustible when Depp made his way to the stage to play guitar with Perry mid-set. Is he great enough to be up there with these legends? Who knows. Perry took the lead, from what we could hear, and Depp was a decent follower, and he's got the charisma, of course. We all know that before he was Tim Burton’s go-to boy, Depp was a musician, and it’s obviously not just a role for him. Whenever we’ve seen him play — and the last time was with a similar lineup, as part of The Hollywood Vampires — he has fit in just fine, channeling Keith Richards but in a more subtle way than in the pirate movies. Somehow he avoids parody and comes off pretty raw and real.
Flanked by the best in the music biz, it was evident Depp knew the material very well as producer of the record, and he deserved to be there. For his part, Perry is best when he is having fun onstage, and clearly jamming with his pal Johnny is a kick for him, as it seemed to be when he joined Foo Fighters at Cal Jam. The obligatory everyone-onstage climax — which featured a surprise sit-in by Slash — also seemed a joyful experience for all involved. It's hard to critique that kind of feel-good moment, even if the verses and chorus to “Come Together” were a bit jumbled (though not nearly as badly as they were at Cal Jam). Perry is a guitar god and his influence is immeasurable. Anything an artist of his level puts out deserves attention, no matter who might be standing beside him. Luckily, after decades of making music, he hasn't lost his sense for who that should be.
Let the Music Do the Talking — Gary Cherone
Toys in the Attic — Gary Cherone
Pandora’s Box — Gary Cherone
Shakin’ My Cage — Gary Cherone
I’ll Do Happiness — Terry Reid
Sick & Tired — Terry Reid
Won’t Let Me Go — Terry Reid
Fortunate One — Chris Robinson
Eve of Destruction — Johnny Depp
I Wanna Roll — David Johanson & Johnny Depp
I’m Goin’ Crazy — David Johanson
Countryside Blvd. — Robin Zander
Aye, Aye, Aye — Robin Zander
Rockin’ Train — Gary Cherone
Come Together — all guests
Train Kept a-Rollin’ — All guests (including Slash)